I had an excellent time last night with Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, and Robert Corziono of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Studies.
One of the things that we discussed was the “priestly polemic” in Saint Luke’s Gospel-Acts as it relates to the rivalry between the Apostles (namely Peter, John, James the Greater, and James of Jerusalem) and the High Priests in Jerusalem. James of Jerusalem is of particular importance because he has been described as a “high priest”.
Saint Jerome (quoting Hegesippus who died in AD 180) recorded:
“After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James.
This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed [Taylor: In other words he was a consecrated Nazarite].
He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen [Taylor: priests wore linen, not wool] and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people [Taylor: this is so obviously priestly], insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.
- Saint Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, “James”
We learn that James was a leader in Jerusalem, not only among Christians but also among the Jews. He was revered as a holy man – a holy man who was a Nazarite, wore linen robes, and prayed inside the Temple! Notably, Josephus mentions only three significant Christian leaders of the first century – John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and James of Jerusalem – the latter was murdered in AD 62 or 63.
James was killed in this way. Ananus ben Ananus (briefly high priest in only the year AD 63) assembled the Sanhedrin and condemned James as transgressor of the Law with the penalty of death by stoning (just like Saint Stephen). Some accounts say that he was first thrown down from the pinnacle of the Temple.
[As an aside, can anyone help me see how this relates to Christ in the wilderness with Satan's temptation of Christ standing on the pinacle?!]
Josephus reports that the Jews of Jerusalem viewed the murder of James as unjust and appealed to the magistrate. In response, King Agrippa replaced the high priest Ananus with Joshua ben Damneus (briefly high priest in AD 63). Shortly thereafter, Jerusalem fell into the war which led to the apocalyptic destruction of the Temple in AD 70.
The murder of James dug out a canyon of distance between the Jerusalem Christians and the Temple hierarchy.
Brant Pitre noted last night that the Gospel of Saint Luke concludes with the episode of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I believe the unnamed disciple is Luke himself. The other disciple is identified as “Cleopas”. Pitre pointed out that tradition identifies Cleopas as the father of both James and Simeon, the successor of James in Jerusalem. Both men were revered by both Jews and Jewish Christians as “priestly leaders”.
Cleopas would be particularly interesting to Jewish priests perplexed by the priestly role and leadership of Saint James of Jerusalem. This is why Luke highlights Cleopas as a witness to the risen Christ.
On top of this, Luke addressed his Gospel-Acts to “the most excellent Theophilus”. If Theophilus is the former high priest of Jerusalem (AD 37-41), then it would explain why Luke concludes with the “credentials” of Cleopas who was the father of the Christian “high priest” of Jerusalem.
This is all very fascinating because it accomplishes three things:
A) It establishes an early dating of Luke-Acts (i.e. before AD 63).
B) It changes the way we read Luke-Acts. It’s not the alleged “Gospel for Gentiles and Women”. I don’t mean to undermine those themes, but there may be more going on here than just that. Instead, Luke-Acts is an apologetical document written for the leadership of Jerusalem just prior to the First Jewish-Roman. As Brante Pitre said, “That’s one heck of a subtle Jew who can pick up on all the sophisticated temple/priestly imagery of Luke, chapters one and two!” I agree.
C) It focuses our attention onto the priestly debates of the first century. Luke is fundamentally concerned with priestly polemics. His emphasis on Temple imagery in the opening chapters, his attention to the debates between Sadducees and Pharisees, and importance of the Ascension of Christ as Priest and Son of Man each confirm this hypothesis.
I’d be very grateful for any comments as I’m still working through all of this.
While you’re at it, take a look at Brant Pitre and Michael Barber’s blog: Singing in the Reign.